A female college student stands next to a poster illustrating her research project.Katelyn Lliso has long been a fan of the Charlotte Checkers. But watching hockey as an athletic trainer is an entirely different experience than it was as a casual fan, says the Wingate University senior.

“I use to cringe when I’d see players hit the wall, but it’s even worse now because I know what kind of injury could happen,” explains Lliso, who says she’s fallen in love with the idea of helping athletes go from being injured to back into action.

A high school soccer player with the goal of becoming a physical therapist, the Matthews resident entered Wingate’s athletic training program four years ago. She’s kept herself busy ever since.

By this weekend, Lliso will have not only an AT degree but some research experience on the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder and a stint with the Checkers to add to her Doctor of Physical Therapy school application.

“Katelyn is a worker. She always has a great attitude and is always ready to get in there and get it done,” says Brandy Clemmer, clinical coordinator for Wingate’s AT program. “She is clinically sound and makes good decisions. And she’s got some really good hands-on experience and letters of recommendation for PT school.”

Clemmer said clinical rotations give all Wingate AT majors experience at the high school and collegiate levels, in physical therapy settings and physician offices. She says it was Lliso’s hard work during a rotation at Metrolina Christian Academy under the watchful eye of Novant healthcare providers that helped her land a stint with Charlotte’s professional hockey team.

“Katelyn was highly recommended by her preceptor, and the Checkers also have a Novant preceptor, so that networking helps,” Clemmer says.

Lliso had to interview with the team’s head athletic trainer and a team doctor. She says working with professional athletes has been enlightening.

“I definitely understand hockey better. And I’ve gotten to understand athletes at this level and what they go through,” Lliso says. “Right now they’re working on holding it together through the playoffs. And we’ve been trying to do the best we can to give the right care and make sure they’re eating and hydrating properly.”

She’s seen and helped with various hockey injuries, including a number of lacerations, and she’s gotten to see one player continue his recovery from a broken jaw.

“Losing teeth and the stress of all of that is a lot to go through,” Lliso says. “I’ve also learned a lot from the Checkers athletic trainers and the doctors, who have interesting stories to tell.”

Research

Much of Lliso’s time at Wingate has been spent doing hands-on learning, whether with the Checkers, in clinical rotation or doing research. In 2016, Lliso presented research on post-ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction rehabilitation techniques.

She spent part of her final semester investigating PTSD with research partner Danielle Wolfe. The two presented their work last month at this year’s Wellspring Symposium.

“We decided to do something on mental health, which is an issue we don’t talk about a lot in AT,” Lliso says. “The NATA (National Athletic Trainers Association) has best practices for all kinds of situations so we know what the protocol is for things like heat illness, concussion, if there’s lightning, but mental health isn’t one of them.”

Lliso wanted to know whether PTSD could result from an athletic injury and what signs athletic trainers should look for.

“If we do see symptoms, we wanted to know who to go to. And what do they do with treatment that we could help with?” Lliso says. “We know our athletes so well and we want to be able to help them in every aspect. And mental health is such a challenging issue.”

Lliso was eager this spring to share at the Symposium what she learned about PTSD.

“I wanted to bring to light the fact that anyone can get PTSD. For example, people who are in car accident or even someone who watched it happen,” Lliso says, “Also it can be a seemingly small thing. Symptoms don’t just go away. And anyone can be affected and at any time.”

From their review of more than 20 research articles on the topic, Lliso and Wolfe found that PTSD is often underreported, especially since one of the symptoms is withdrawal.

“If, as athletic trainers, we can pick up on some of these symptoms, we can encourage the person to get help,” Lliso says. “Our job is to notice, to ask questions, to point the person to a mental health professional. We bring it to the surface, that’s our role. And then maybe we can make the recovery from it easier for them.”

Lliso says the research poster she and Wolfe presented, which included signs, symptoms and most common treatments, sparked more questions about PTSD.

“Some students asked about whether it is related to concussion or secondary impact syndrome and also about how prevalent it is in athletes,” she says. Although the two couldn’t answer every question definitively, they could point to studies and talk about their findings, aspects of the symposium that Lliso highly recommends to all Wingate students.

“You get to showcase what you have found and get excited talking about it,” she says. “Everybody should want to learn and understand topics from different majors. And the symposium is a great opportunity to do that.”

In addition to her research work and her clinical experience, Lliso will also be able to add “certified athletic trainer” to her PT school resume, having passed the Board of Certification exam on her first attempt.

Lliso is one of eight AT grads who will cross the stage Saturday with more than 300 of their peers at Wingate’s Undergraduate Commencement. The ceremony is set for 9 a.m. in the Academic Quadrangle. Wingate’s graduate students will have their own Commencement Friday, beginning at 6 p.m., also on the Quad.

May 10, 2018